For the home cook who stocks a corner of the kitchen cupboard with a few basic spices to be relied on time and time again, salt and pepper are an excellent start, but there is an entire world of aromatic spices to be explored. Some are familiar, like nutmeg and cloves; others more exotic, like sumac and Grains of Paradise. Spices can elevate the flavor of almost any dish and bring a nuance of sophistication to the table.
Many dishes would lack soul without a touch of spice. Imagine cinnamon buns without the scent and flavor of cinnamon, or chili con carne without warm, spicy cumin and ground chiles! What would gingersnaps taste like without ginger? My favorite recipe even calls for ginger in three forms: powdered, crystalized and fresh.
Foreign markets are characteristically filled with a kaleidoscope of unusually colorful and aromatic spices and seasoning preparations. Spices define much about the cuisine of a culture. Immigrant communities and the rise of ethnic flavors have dramatically changed the foods Americans eat and have created demand for nontraditional spices, spice pastes and spicy marinades … especially those from Asia, India, Africa, Latin America and Australia.
The spice sections in American supermarkets have exploded recently with new options for adding layer upon layer of flavors to foods. Exotic spices evoke a time and place worth getting to know; cooking with them is the easiest way to bring a sense of these Old World cultures into your home.
What Exactly is a Spice?
Dried spices preserve and add flavor plus color to foods. Derived from woody plants growing in tropical areas, spices are strips of bark, roots, buds, seeds, mature or immature fruits and rhizomes. Most are highly aromatic and pungent; others are subtler.
Spices offer a concentrated source of flavor and, when properly used, stimulate the appetite and enhance the taste of bland foods. The volatile chemicals responsible for their unique flavor profiles were designed by nature as a repellent to protect the plants from hungry microbes and animals. Added to foods in small amounts, these chemicals become greatly diluted and stimulate the senses of aroma and taste.
Why not season a dish with a single spice or a ten-spice blend? Experimenting with the large number of available spices will allow you to become a modern-day alchemist and create endless flavor combinations.
There is no exact formula for making spice blends. Recipes are guidelines and spice amounts can always be adjusted to taste. When it tastes good to you (after cooking) — then it’s the right blend. A word of caution: don’t over-spice foods or they can taste harsh and unpleasant. Add a spice, or spice blend, judiciously if you are trying it for the first time; you can always add more.
Spice: A Taste of Adventure
It’s easy to forget the historic importance of spices, which have shaped the world from the dawn of written history. Wars were fought over the precious commodity and over lands discovered along the spice trade routes. Because of spices, continents were discovered, and empires were enriched as well as the foods.
Trade in the Spice Islands was already brisk when the Chinese arrived in the 6th century. Arabia took over the trade in the late 13th century. Spices were carried by caravan along “The Silk Road,” a network of ancient overland trade routes connecting Asia to the Mediterranean, Africa and Europe. They also traveled by ship to ports that dealt with Southeast Asian spices.
In Europe, the ancient Romans and crusaders were already developing a taste for heavily spiced foods, further stimulated by Marco Polo’s adventurous travel tales. Coveted spices included cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and mace. Black pepper (Piper nigrum), native to India’s Malabar Coast, was one of the world’s earliest known spices and probably the most valuable. Pepper was used as both a seasoning and medicinal aid. In fact, every spice was considered to be some type of effective medical remedy and preventative for disease.
A few spices were grown in Medieval Europe including mustard seeds, bay leaves, saffron and fenugreek. Unknown yet were the spices of Central America: capsicums (chile peppers); vanilla pods; and allspice (or pimento) from the Caribbean Islands.
Partly because of the rarity and exorbitant cost of imported spices, they became prestigious status symbols and were even used as currency. Nearly three-quarters of the dishes prepared by the wealthy upper class were profusely spiced. During this period, food more closely resembled Middle Eastern cuisine than European cuisine today. Perhaps the most alluring reason that people craved spices was their mysterious origin as the fabled Spice Islands were shrouded in myths, legends and cautionary tales.
By mid-15th century, Europeans were ready to set sail on voyages of exploration to colonize the rest of the world. But the major draw for men like Ferdinand Magellan, Christopher Columbus and Sir Frances Drake was the chance to discover the cradle of spices somewhere in the “Indies” and to reap profits.
In 1498, Vasco De Gama reached India by sailing around the Cape of Good Hope. The price of pepper soon fell. In the service of Spain, Christopher Columbus, a Genoese navigator, was sent to find a new route to the Spice Islands in 1492. He ended up sailing to the New World where the natives in the Caribbean introduced him to allspice and chile peppers. A taste of the spicy pods convinced Columbus they were a type of black peppercorn, so he erroneously named them peppers. Chile, with a final “e,” is the Spanish spelling for the fiery-hot pods that Columbus found. They are fruits of plants from the genus Capsicum. In the U.K. and India, the spelling is usually “chilli.” Unrelated to true pepper (Piper nigrum), chiles are considered a spice when dried.
It wasn’t until the 16th century that a European caught sight of the Spice Islands. Magellan, a Portuguese explorer, led the first expedition that sailed around the Earth: 1519 to 1522. He made it to the Spice Islands in 1521 and named the Pacific Ocean.
The Benefits and Dangers of Cooking With Spices
Besides adding depth and complexity to the taste of foods and beverages, spices offer nutritional, antioxidant, pharmaceutical and antimicrobial properties. Most natural spices have few, if any, calories. Spices are added to beauty aids and distilled into cosmetics and perfumes.
However, the chemicals that provide flavor to spices are a defense system. If eaten in amounts too large, they can be toxic. Although rare, some people can have hypersensitivity reactions to spices and herbs; for example, nutmeg, a beloved spice in baked goods and beverages at holiday time, may have been the original recreational drug. In the Middle Ages it was added generously to wine, flips, syllabubs and Rattle-Skull — a dark beer. Beyond a traditional yuletide glow, nutmeg has been known to create mind-altering effects when taken in large amounts. It has chemical properties similar to ecstasy. Nutmeg poisoning is rare, but stick to the usual amount called for in recipes. In the glossary online at ColumbiaMetro.com, check the notes for Turmeric and Pink Peppercorns.
Many amazing natural healing properties attributed to spices are based in fact. But they are often the basis for commercial medicines; another reason not to overdo.
Lebanon is the origin of this tasty Middle Eastern bread, tomato and cucumber salad. For an extra treat, sprinkle each portion with a small amount of flavorful Dukkah Seasoning (recipe included).
1 hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced
2 small ripe tomatoes or 4 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded, diced into 1/4 inch pieces
1/3 cup chopped red onion, or to taste
2 pita bread rounds, each cut into 1/2 inch square pieces
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon sumac
Juice of 1 large lemon (3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons quality balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or as needed
Black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup EACH fresh, torn mint leaves and fresh, torn basil or Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup crumbled, imported feta
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare vegetables; put into a large salad bowl and set aside. Brush pita with 2 tablespoons olive oil; sprinkle evenly with sumac. Heat in oven 10 minutes; set aside. Whisk together remaining oil, lemon juice, balsamic, sugar, salt and pepper; whisk until combined. Toss bread into vegetable mixture; add dressing, herbs and feta cheese. Taste to check seasoning then portion onto chilled salad plates. Serves four to five.
Dukkah is a popular Egyptian street food. Before grinding the nuts and spices, dry roast them in a pan over medium heat until lightly aromatic, 3 to 4 minutes. Optional ingredients: sunflower, fennel and nigella seeds. The mixture has endless uses — season vegetables; mix into olive oil for dipping crusty bread, or add to the breading mixture for baked chicken cutlets. Stir into yogurt as a dip or sprinkle over a bowlful of hummus.
1 cup pine nuts, peanuts or almonds (blanched and toasted)
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup cumin seeds
1/4 cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons freshly dried mint leaves or dried thyme
Dried, grated zest of 1 large orange or 1 large lemon
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon dried red chile flakes
Black pepper, to taste
Combine ingredients in a food processor; process quickly using short on/off bursts of power. Ideally the mixture should be a medium coarse grind, retaining texture. Don’t over process or it will become oily and paste-like. You can also hand-grind mixture with a mortar and pestle. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator. Makes about 2 cups.
Fragrant Chili Powder
Dry roast and grind whole spices for the best flavor. You can slightly adjust any of the spice amounts to taste. Use for chili, tacos or other Southwestern dishes.
2 tablespoons ground chiles
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons cayenne, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Combine the ingredients after dry roasted and cooled. Store in an airtight container.
Goat Cheese with Lavender
Select a chile powder that delivers some heat. Serve this yummy spread with chips, pita wedges, crackers or veggie sticks. Any of the interesting chile powder blends or sauces in this article would work too.
1 cup mild, young goat cheese or yogurt cheese, at room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons pure chile powder, to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 to 1 teaspoon dried lavender or oregano
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Black pepper, to taste
In a medium bowl, stir together all the ingredients. Serve in an attractive bowl within an hour or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to one month. Makes about 1 cup.
Aromatic Curry Powder
Dry roast the whole spices before grinding for the best flavor. Adjust the amount of any spice to your taste. Use for meat or vegetable stir-fries, fried rice or in noodle dishes.
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons cardamom seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
3/4 inch long piece of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
Toast whole spices in a dry skillet over low heat until fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Combine with the remaining ingredients; grind in a spice grinder or coffee mill until fine. Store curry powder in an airtight container. Makes about 1/2 cup.
Chef-entrepreneur Belinda Smith-Sullivan began creating spice blends for her own use; now her products are in 16 Whole Food Markets. Her three new coffee spice blends (Turkish Coffee Blend, Moroccan Coffee Blend and Caribbean Coffee Blend) don’t actually contain coffee — you add them to hot coffee in place of sugar.
Belinda was inspired to create them when a friend’s mother, who was diabetic, needed an alternative to sugar for her coffee. The blends are wonderful for baking too. Here is a popular cookie recipe from Belinda that calls for coffee spice blend. If you don’t have the blend handy, she says you can substitute a combination of any of the following ground spices, to total the same amount: cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom or cloves.
3 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup molasses
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons Coffee Spice Mix
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter and sugar using an electric mixer on high for 3 minutes with the paddle attachment. Add molasses and eggs and mix well. Mix all dry ingredients together in a bowl. Reduce speed and slowly add all dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until completely mixed. The batter will be soft. Chill for 30 minutes so it will be easier to scoop.
Use a small scoop and place each scoop at least 3 inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 11 minutes. After 1 minute of cooling on the cookie sheet, place cookies on a cooling rack. Makes 70 3-inch cookies.
Lillian’s Spice Island Cooler
This refreshing cooler comes from Lillian Johnson, a creative cook who traveled the world as a Navy wife. The sweet aroma of the spice base conjures up images of gentle tropical breezes, white sands and the glistening blue sea. It adds sparkle to beverages like apple juice, cranberry juice, orange and tangerine juice, pineapple juice, ginger ale or plain iced tea. Add to mugs of hot apple cider in the fall, spiked with a little rum for the grown-ups.
4 quarts water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup whole cloves
1/4 cup ground allspice
1/4 cup ground nutmeg
2 or 3 cinnamon sticks
6 cups chilled fruit juice of choice (one or a blend)
Springs of fresh mint or cinnamon basil
Put water and spices into a large pan. Bring to a medium boil. When mixture is reduced to 1 quart and becomes slightly syrupy, remove from stovetop and cool. Spice base can be stored in the refrigerator in a 1-quart jar. Pour chilled juice of choice into a large pitcher. Stir in 2 or 3 tablespoons of the spiced syrup, or to taste. Stir then pour into tall chilled glasses filled with ice cubes. Add mint garnish. Makes 3 to 4 servings.
Here is a list of several of the most useful and interesting culinary spices. The list is by no means all-inclusive.
Aleppo Pepper: Crushed, scarlet-colored, dried chile peppers from Southern Turkey near the Syrian town of Aleppo — a terminus for the fabled Silk Road. They have moderate heat with fruity, spiced overtones. In high demand, they are presently difficult to obtain because of ongoing conflicts in Syria, and so other peppers are being substituted. It is delicious sprinkled over soft white cheese with crackers.
Allspice: The unripe, dried berry of the evergreen pimento offers hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Allspice, also called Jamaican pepper, is used in English cooking and baking, in Caribbean fish, poultry, meat and vegetable dishes, and in soups.
Cardamom: Whole aromatic pods that are commonly used in Scandinavian and Indian cuisines. The green or bleached white pods have small, black seeds inside. Grind whole spice along with seeds. If adding whole seeds to a dish, crack lightly to release the aromatic flavors. Ground cardamom can loses it flavor within two or three weeks: grind just before use. Use in curries, breads, rice pudding and savory rice dishes.
Chile Powder (pure): Pure chile powder, without additives, is used in generous amounts to season and thicken stews and sauces. It is made from chiles that are mild and sweet, smoky or hot and spicy: e.g., the fruity, brick-red ancho — the dry form of the fresh poblano; the chipotle chile (smoked jalapeño); superhot habanero chile; and the popular New Mexican chile, bred from Mexican pasilla and Colorado chiles. Add complexity and vary the heat by blending two to three types of chiles.
Chili Powder (blend): A spice mixture of dried red chiles with salt, cumin, paprika, oregano and garlic. Primarily used in Southwestern dishes like chili con carne, tamale pie, bean dishes and tacos. The heat varies with the variety of chiles used.
Cinnamon: The third most consumed spice in the world comes in two forms: Ceylon cinnamon and cassia. True Ceylon cinnamon is handcrafted from the inner bark of an evergreen tree in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). It adds a subtle, sweet flavor and sophistication to foods. Its pungent, stronger-tasting cousin cassia (China, Indonesia, Vietnam and India) costs less and is commonly found in North America supermarkets. Cassia sticks curl inward from both ends creating a hollow tube. Cinnamon has antibacterial properties making it a natural food preservative. University of Arizona researchers recently announced that both forms of cinnamon contain a compound that can help prevent colon cancer. Cinnamon sticks can be stored up to three years.
Cloves: Dried aromatic flower buds of a tree that is native to the Maluki Islands in Indonesia.
Curry Powder: A commercial blend of aromatic ground spices such as cumin, turmeric, chiles, black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. This is the curry blend of the West — not India or Southeast Asia where cooks create spice combinations as they prepare each dish. The masala or “spice blend” is a cornerstone of Indian cuisine, with as many formulas as there are cooks. It’s fun to create your own spice combinations, yet quality, commercial curry powders can be successfully used in many dishes.
Curry Powder/Japanese-Style: Kaire raisu or “curry rice,” is one of the most popular comfort foods in Japan. Japanese curry differs from other Asian curries. It is milder, thicker and slightly sweeter. Curry is often made with a rectangular block of spiced roux that is sold in a box. Add protein, vegetables, liquid and any special ingredients to customize; serve over cooked white rice. Japan’s S&B Oriental Curry Powder is an excellent product if you prepare it from scratch. A staple in my kitchen, it has many uses.
Garam Masala: The Indian name for a collective variety of customized, ground spice mixtures for curry dishes — as personalized as any chilihead’s prized seasoning for homemade chili. Moist spice pastes include fresh chiles, gingerroot, shallots and garlic. Small amounts add zip to your favorite dishes. For a quick dip, stir, to taste, into sour cream or yogurt; add fresh herbs and chopped veggies. Wrap leftover paste tightly; refrigerate up to two weeks or freeze.
Gingerroot: A rhizome, ginger originated in India or China and is considered a spice. Since antiquity, it has been used fresh, pickled and candied. Use ginger in cakes, cookies, breads, preserves, liqueurs and ginger ale. In India 5,000 years ago, it was dried and carried in spice caravans to the Middle East. Fresh ginger’s potency reduces nausea, heartburn, motion sickness and migraine headaches. For a restorative ginger tea, simmer ginger slices in water; sweeten, to taste, with brown sugar. Embellish tea with a few toasted pine nuts.
Lavender: Originating in the Mediterranean, lavender is classified as an herb, but enhances many dishes containing spice blends. Add to ice cream, shortbread, lamb dishes, crème brûlée and rice. Put lavender and sugar into a jar with a tight lid for two weeks; use sugar for tea, baking or custards. Use 1/3 the quantity of dried flowers to fresh. Culinary lavender is easy to buy; don’t use pesticide-treated flowers.
Mustard Seeds: White (yellow), black and brown seeds are from three types of mustard plants. Black seeds are the most pungent and white seeds are the mildest. Brown seeds are used in Dijon mustard. The seed’s scent and heat is activated when mixed with liquid. Sprinkle toasted seeds on vegetable and rice dishes or add seeds to coatings for chicken.
Nutmeg: The fruit produces two spices: nutmeg (large seed) and mace (webbed covering around seed). Mace is also used in self-defense pepper sprays. Nutmeg is indigenous to the Banda Islands (The Spice Islands) of Indonesia. Up until the mid-19th century, the islands were a crucial hub for the spice trade and the only place on earth where nutmeg and mace were found. Whole nutmeg is grated with a tiny rasp grater. It is an alleged aphrodisiac.
Paprika: A ground spice from dried, sweet or slightly spicy varieties of bell peppers. Paprika appears in East European dishes (e.g., goulash and chicken paprikash). Quality Hungarian paprika is recommended; ranging from mild to hot, the true flavor is released when heated. A Spanish version features smoked peppers.
Pink Peppercorns: These are not true peppercorns, but the rich, rose-colored fruit of the sprawling Brazilian pepper tree, of the cashew and mango family. The sweet, mildly piquant berries are used in fruit sauces, vinaigrettes and desserts. Add toward the end of the cooking process to preserve the delicate flavor. People with tree-nut allergies are advised to avoid the berries from U.S. trees. Purchase imported berries from France (Ile de Reunion), are thought to be safer. Native to Argentina and Brazil, the tree is an aggressive, non-native species in warm areas like Florida and Southern California.
Peppercorns: As valuable as gold and used as currency in the Middle Ages, black pepper is known for stimulating the taste buds. The small dried fruits (piper nigrum) are from a flowering vine. Green peppercorns are picked unripe and soaked in brine. Mature black peppercorns have the strongest flavor. Milder white peppercorns are treated to remove the outer skins; use when you don’t want black pepper flecks in foods. Premium peppercorns have a uniform dark color. Excellent Malabar peppercorns come from Kerala at the southwestern tip of India. A small percentage of them grow larger and are sold as Tellicherry peppercorns, one of the most desirable types. Larger peppercorns loose some heat but become more fragrant and flavorful. Vietnam is currently the world’s largest pepper producer. Freshly ground black pepper tastes best.
Saffron: The world’s most costly spice is from red-orange stigmas of the crocus flower. It takes about 80,000 flowers for each pound of saffron. The distinctive, earthy aroma and flavor is used in Indian, Spanish, French and Italian cuisines. Crush the threads with a mortar and pestle then infuse in a little warm water to release the unique flavor. Some cooks use turmeric as a less-costly substitute. Osfour is a spice made from the orange-yellow stigmas of the safflower plant, and primarily used to add color to foods.
Salt: Salt greatly enhances the flavors of foods we eat. A popular U.S. table salt first appeared in the 1920s, sprayed with iodine to prevent enlargement of the thyroid gland. With better diets and natural sea salt, iodized salt isn’t as necessary today. There are many distinctive salts to choose from; here are a few favorites: Alaea Hawaiian Sea Salt gets its pink hue from a small amount of volcanic, baked red clay that enriches the salt with iron oxide. Himalayan Salt has pretty, pink crystals mined from the evaporated seas that flowed during the Jurassic period. Fleur de Sel (“flower of salt”) is a premier artisan salt, hand raked and harvested in the Camargue region of France. There are many unique salts with this area. French Sel Gris (“grey salt”) is a moist, unrefined salt harvested in the Brittany region of France’s Atlantic coast. Hand-harvested with wooden rakes, its distinct grey color comes from minerals absorbed by the clay lining the salt ponds. Tip: Select a flaked sea salt; mix in some spices, herbs or whatever you desire. Use as a finishing salt.
Star Anise: A signature flavor of Chinese cooking, this star-shaped spice has a bold, licorice flavor than enhances braised Chinese dishes. Star anise flavors the fragrant, rich beef broth that is the base of Vietnam’s unofficial national noodle soup, Phở. It is also used in some Indian curries and Iranian dishes. Ground star anise is an essential ingredient in Five-Spice Powder.
Szechuan Peppercorns: These berries of the mountain ash tree are native to China’s Szechuan Province. They provide a unique, spicy flavor in dishes. Toast berries lightly and grind like pepper. For an all-purpose, Chinese seasoning/dipping salt, put 1/2 cup coarse sea salt, 1/4 cup Szechuan peppercorns and 1 rounded tablespoon black peppercorns into a heavy, dry skillet. Toast over medium heat 3 to 4 minutes, stirring or shaking skillet constantly, until hot and fragrant. Peppercorns may smoke but don’t allow to burn. Grind mixture in a spice grinder or coffee mill; store airtight.
Togarashi: Capsicum (chile peppers) in Japan. See Shichimi Togarashi under Spice Blends and Pastes.
Turmeric: A rhizome from the ginger family, it has a bright yellow flesh. An important spice in India and Asia, turmeric lends color and an earthy flavor to curries, pickles, mustards and seasoning blends. This centuries-old spice contains color-rich curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory “50 times more potent than vitamin C or E,” according to researchers at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. One study shows strong evidence that curcumin inhibits the growth of certain cancer cells. Fresh turmeric is available in Indian markets and occasionally at the Whole Foods Market.
Wasabi: The spicy green rhrizome grows wild in Japan and commercially in some areas of the U.S. It is expensive and may be difficult to locate. A tasty alternative is powdered wasabi, which is mainly horseradish with mustard and green coloring. Reconstitute in a little water or saké and ripen in a small bowl, turned upside-down a few minutes before serving. Wasabi root has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Seed and Berry Spices
Anise Seeds (Aniseed): Native to the Mediterranean and Middle East, anise seeds belong to the family of cumin, caraway, dill and fennel. Its mild licorice-like flavor enhances baked goods, vegetable and rice dishes, liqueurs, candy, Greek Ouzo and French Absinthe. Pair with cinnamon; add to baked goods such as Italian biscotti, German Pfeffernüsse and bizcochito — state cookie of New Mexico. John Gerard, 16th century English botanist, recommended it to “maketh the breath sweete.” Simmer seeds in boiling water for a soothing, digestive tea.
Caraway Seeds: Their warm, nutty flavor is favored in Central European and Scandinavian dishes and used for flavoring cheese, rye bread, desserts, savory dumplings, goulash and kummel — a German liqueur. Also used in harissa — the North African pepper paste. Simmer seeds in boiling water for a soothing, digestive tea.
Coriander Seeds: The Round dried berries are of the coriander plant, but share little similarity in taste. Ground coriander is used in Indian curry spice blends, chutneys and pickles. Also used in Latin American cooking and baked goods.
Cumin Seeds: One of the world’s favorite spices, it has a warm, musky scent and flavor. Cumin is popular in the cuisines of Mexico, the Middle East, India, Cuba and the Southwestern U.S., where it is a favorite spice in the meat and bean dish, chili con carne.
Dill Seeds: Native to Southwest Asia and Southern Europe, Ancient Roman gladiators ate it to bolster strength. Yellow flower clusters provide seeds for use in foods like pickles (dill pickles), soups (borsch), breads, braised dishes and vegetable salads (slaw).
Fennel Seeds: Indigenous to the Mediterranean, and used since Roman times, the anise-flavored spice is a classic ingredient in Tuscan cuisine. Add to meatballs, meat loaf and sweet desserts. The roasted seeds are valued in India and Pakistan as a digestive and breath freshener. They are similar in taste to aniseed but smaller.
Fenugreek Seeds: One of the oldest cultivated plants, it’s valued for its herbal foliage and seeds. The seeds are used in Indian curries and Turkish, Persian and Ethiopian dishes. Reminiscent of maple, the seeds are used in commercial pancake syrup. Laboratory evidence suggests fenugreek has anti-inflammatory properties, and helps lower cholesterol. It also aids digestion. Bengali Five-Spice blend — paunch phoron — contains fenugreek, cumin, fennel, black mustard and nigella seeds. Sprinkle on stir